Bob Howard remembers what a regional track meet used to mean for Harlan County teams.
“In 1986, we had to leave Evarts High School at 4 a.m. to run a regional at Pikeville,” said Howard.
Howard was the cross country and track coach at Evarts for 19 years before becoming principal. He started the first cross country program in the county in 1985 and turned both the cross county and track programs at Evarts into regional powers, even though the school didn’t have a track or cross country course.
Howard served as principal at Evarts in the last years of the school’s existence, turning the cross country program over to Ryan Vitatoe, one of Howard’s top runners in the 1990s.
Howard and Vitatoe continued their work at the new Harlan County High School when it opened in 2008 with Howard as principal and Vitatoe as cross country coach. Vitatoe added coaching track to his duties a couple of years ago.
Their efforts of the years were rewarded when the HCHS track opened a couple of years ago at Coal Miners Memorial Stadium. The next step occurs Friday when the 2A, Region 7 meet will be held at the HCHS track, reportedly the first time a regional has been held in Harlan County.
“I never knew a home meet in 19 years. The very concept of a Harlan County regional is a celebration for me,” said Howard, who retired as the Harlan County High School principal two years ago. “I am glad Ryan pursued it for our county. I’m very proud of HCHS.”
“This is a big achievement for our school to serve as the host of a regional track meet for the first time,” Harlan County High School Principal Edna Burkhart said. “This will be a great opportunity to showcase our new track and our entire campus for visitors from around the region. We’re very proud of our track and cross country program at HCHS and the success coach Vitatoe and our student/athletes have enjoyed.”
Vitatoe spent quite a bit of time since the new HCHS track opened working to bring the regional meet to Harlan County.
“It’s exciting for the kids and the county to have the regional meet hosted here. It’s a banner day for our program, and for all of those who have coached and run track and field in our county in the last 30 years,” he said. “As a program, it’s important to have this opportunity in hopes to attract more attention to our team and for the kids who have worked so hard for us this season. As a coach, it feels special to have the opportunity to host the first ever regional meets in our county for both track and cross country. It’s something I’ll always treasure and be thankful to all the coaches before me who laid the foundation that we run on. I’m also very thankful to our superintendent and administration for their support for track.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134